We don’t handle death and grieving well in the so-called civilized Western World. As we age, death and the associated loss becomes part of our lives. We confront it and work around it. We are busy and important people. There is no time frame for grieving and the stages of grief that Councillors pull out when confronted with clients who are unable to move through their grief- Bah humbug.
Who thinks up these words and phrases?
How do you interact with parents who have buried a child? A husband who has lost a young wife? A couple who have been together for 50plus years and suddenly two becomes one. What do you say?
And a suicide…oh no, we must not talk about that.
We don’t have an elephant in the room – it is standing there on centre stage, looming large and glaring at us.
Most people send cards, flowers, deliver a meal and dole out tea and sympathy when death knocks on the door of those we know and care for. But what do we do in the months and years after the passing of a loved one?
We avoid mentioning the person’s name, we pretend they didn’t exist because it makes us uncomfortable. Or as a friend of mine is wont to say an “even worser” situation we tell the grief-stricken person, they will get used to it, they will get over it, and in time it will be alright.
No, it won’t be alright! No, you don’t get over it! You don’t get used to it!
You don’t forget – you can’t forget – you are frightened – you are terrified of forgetting the sound of their voice, the touch of their hand, the smile that made your heart jump or their smell.
You cry in private when the loneliness overwhelms you. You suffer mood swings. You over-eat or you starve yourself. Some get depressed and need medical intervention. We do not understand how to deal with grief.
You adapt, you learn to put on a face to the world. A personae that states loudly “I am coping”, when in reality inside you are dying piece by piece.
All of these things were brought home to me today when an old friend celebrated her birthday. She and her mother were like sisters. Her mum passed away about 6 months ago.
Her birthday reminder popped up on Facebook and invited me to write on her timeline. I hesitated. What would I say? I knew how much she would be hurting today- so I took a deep breath and sent the following message;
“Have a wonderful day. I know it will be hard today but I know your Mum is always with you.”
I received a lovely response,
“Thank you so much for your thoughts and mentioning my Mum. (As most people sidestep the fact that I lost her and this is my first birthday without her.) That is honouring her place in my heart so thank you. It means a lot. A hard day but her memories are close. Hugs and lots of love dear lady xxxooxx “
What we need to do is acknowledge the pain and the hurt. You are not indulging someone when you allow them to talk about someone who has died. You are acknowledging their pain and helping them heal.
There, I used the D word. Died. Gone. Passed away. No longer physically here.
Rarely do people die at home anymore. Too many of our loved ones die in sterile, hostile environments, hooked up to machines. We are not encouraged to participate in the process. We then deal with the additional guilt of handing their care to others.
We no longer have a wake. The body is removed with indecent haste. The hospital, hospice, care facility bed is needed for someone else. We no longer sit with our loved one in the time between the death and burial. They are confined to the cold of the mortuary, sometimes for more than a week, while we arrange for the family to attend the service. We have a polite tea party with sandwiches with hard edges, limp lettuce, weak tea and cordial in the Funeral Parlour tea rooms. For the majority of us we make polite conversation and then go back to our comfortable lives, or do we?
Those who have died are still with us. Every day there are so many reminders. We remember them, the songs and the words they sang and used. The perfumes they liked. The movies they watched and the books they read are constant reminders. A brother or sister may have the same speech habits or mannerisms and a new bub may look like your dad.
Don’t be frightened to mention the person in conversation, don’t have those awkward pauses. Allow people to share their grief with you instead of locking it away and being overwhelmed.
If people were given permission to share their memories, perhaps the pain will lessen and the adaption to life without the person who is dead will be easier. Don’t be the friend who is there at the funeral with promises and just drifts away, disappearing. Be there not just immediately after the death but in the weeks, months and perhaps even years that follow. Some people will find it harder than others.
We need to have the empathy and compassion to support our friends and those we love. We need to be adult about this and not pretend it never happened. We need to focus on the good memories and continue to live life as best we can.
Nothing is surer than the fact that you will know that pain one day, and wish that people would not avoid mentioning the one you have lost.
I found this an image of an incredible image and had to share the photograph The sculpture is located in Guildford’s Castle Grounds in a walled garden, near the house that Lewis Carroll used to rent. It was created by sculptor Jeanne Argent. The sculpture was created when a friend of Jeanne Argent entered a drawing of Alice Through the Looking Glass into a competition the drawing won and Jeanne made the sculpture in response. The 4ft figure was modeled on the sculptor’s daughter Anne and was installed in 1990.